In the Q&A below, UPF author Carl Lindskoog (Detain and Punish) talks to fellow UPF authors April J. Mayes and Kiran C. Jayaram about their new collection, Transnational Hispaniola: New Directions in Haitian and Dominican Studies. This volume shows that although Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island and a complicated history, there is much more to the two nations’ relationship than their perceived antagonism. We invite you to sit in on the conversation as these scholars discuss why we should avoid overemphasizing conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, what recent changes on the island mean for Haitians and Dominicans, and how we can think about the border between these two countries in new ways.
Questions by Carl Lindskoog, author of Detain and Punish: Haitian Refugees and the Rise of the World’s Largest Immigration Detention System. Lindskoog is assistant professor of history at Raritan Valley Community College.
Answers by April J. Mayes and Kiran C. Jayaram, coeditors of Transnational Hispaniola: New Directions in Haitian and Dominican Studies. Mayes is associate professor of history at Pomona College and is the author of The Mulatto Republic: Class, Race, and Dominican National Identity. Jayaram is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of South Florida and coeditor of Keywords of Mobility: Critical Engagements.
Carl Lindskoog (CL): Your book seeks to supplant the narrative of conflict and division in Dominican‒Haitian relations with an alternative view of Hispaniola as a place of shared history and traditions. Why has the conflict narrative been so dominant? And how is your challenge to this narrative related to the social movements that inspired the intellectual project of Transnational Hispaniola?
April J. Mayes and Kiran C. Jayaram (AM & KJ): To begin, it is important to recognize that we are not the first to question the conflict model of Dominican‒Haitian relations. We build upon the foundational work of writers such as Antenor Firmin, Jean-Price Mars, Franklin Franco, Guy Alexandre, Rubén Silié, Isis Duarte, and María Filomena González.
Beyond these forerunners, our challenge to the conflict narrative derives from three sources. First, we wanted to acknowledge and bring some more attention to the myriad of historical cross-colonial and cross-national collaborations that have been vital to the success of various political projects such as pan-Antilleanism, pro-democracy movements, and anti-imperialist/anti-U.S.-intervention mobilizations.
Then, the leaders of many contemporary social movements and organizations as well as artists and performers told us how their cross-border experiences, whether as labor migrants, activists, or religious leaders, deeply informed the development of their political consciousness and provided them with the critical framework to understand Haiti‒DR relations in new ways that, in turn, inspired their creativity and gifted them with a critical perspective from which to analyze the dynamics of power within their own countries.
Finally, we were also inspired to think against the conflict narrative in light of the important work of Samuel Martínez. In his many, critical studies of human rights narratives and activism, particularly with reference to Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic, Martínez points out the ideological and strategic dead ends that particular constructions of Haitians and Dominicans produce in human rights activism.
We applied these insights to the discipline at large and asked: What limits are placed upon us and what are the corners we paint ourselves into when the emphasis is on conflict and division?
We answer this in a number of ways. We argue that if scholars continue to operate within the conflict narrative we cannot really engage transnational, intellectual work because our research and analysis will continue to be bound by methodological nationalism; that if we are committed to creating new narratives about Haiti and Haitians, one way to do this is by connecting Haitian studies to Dominican studies in new and productive ways; and, finally, as engaged scholar- and creative-activists, we felt it necessary to coauthor a story of the island that contributes something to the numerous efforts to define and defend human and cultural rights across the island.
CL: You highlight the long history of transnationalism on Hispaniola but also argue that Haitians and Dominicans have experienced transnationalism in new ways in recent history. How have structural changes on the island contributed to this new chapter in transnationalism, and how does your book document the ways Haitians and Dominicans have sought to survive and resist the resulting social and economic dislocations?
AM & KJ: The third section of our book addresses this question most explicitly in terms of structural changes. We would also argue that the second section of our book, which deals mostly with literary representations, also addresses this question, but from a different lens.
The structural changes highlighted in the book include the growth of the tourism industry, including sex tourism; the expansion of export-processing zones, including the growth and decline of that industry over time; the elaboration of CAFTA-DR which was later complimented by post-earthquake development plans for Haiti; and, the deepening dependence of Haitian and Dominican families and each country’s respective economy on remittances sent from migrants living abroad. These changes, albeit in different ways, have contributed toward integrating Haitian and Dominican economies more significantly than ever before. This has been particularly true after the earthquake. One result of the earthquake was that Haiti became an even more important trading partner with the DR.
We argue that Haitians and Dominicans have grappled with these changes in myriad ways. As the second section of our book relates, writers such as Rita Hernández and Aurora Arias have explored how sex tourism and marriage-based migration have seeped from the tourist zones into everyday life. They both examine what this means for heterosexual gender relations and for socio-economic mobility beyond tourist zones. Section three discusses sex tourism as both a direct product of these structural changes, but also as an expression of agency within a service-based economy. Kiran’s analysis demonstrates that rural Haitians are not fooled by the imposed blueprints of development strategists and the dream they sell now under the guise of sustainable development. April’s contribution, which focuses on the question of nationality for the children of Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic, speaks directly to the social movements poniendo cuerpo in the struggle for recognition and for redistribution.
CL: Another exciting aspect of your book is its critical engagement with the border. How does Transnational Hispaniola challenge us to rethink the idea of the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti? And how might your book also change the way we think about borders between nations and peoples in the United States and elsewhere?
AM & KJ: Indeed, our work engages with a number of other scholars working in U.S./Canadian Latinx Studies who have examined multiple border relationships in new ways. We credit scholars such as Ginetta E. B. Candelario (Black behind the Ears), Arturo Victoriano (Rayanos y Dominicanyorks), and Lorgia García-Peña (The Borders of Dominicanidad) for their creative engagements with the Haiti‒DR border. Their major contribution, among many others, has been to force readers to consider the island’s border dynamics as shaped by numerous forces, including and especially U.S. intervention in the Caribbean.
Nathalie Bragadier’s chapter in our volume provides evidence of these imperial dynamics since the creation of Saint Domingue in the mid-seventeenth century. Bragadier’s piece wonderfully compliments Candelario’s insights that the dynamics between Haiti and the Dominican Republic must be understood in a triangulated relationship that includes imperial powers. Victoriano and García-Peña, in their respective works, have applied the border theorizations of Chicana scholar-activists such as Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherie Moraga to the Haitian‒Dominican border in an effort to contrast alternative imaginaries and the more fluid, lived realities that border residents experience versus the rigid nationalisms of consolidating nation-states.
For our part, we wanted to contribute a new symbology for the border, one that stems from the island’s shared religious traditions and its Afro-Indigenous roots. For this reason, we turned to Vodou to provide us with a new metaphor—the center pole, or poto mitan—and with new epistemologies to help us rethink border relations more broadly.
Regine Jean-Charles’s chapter in our volume, however, questions if merely thinking about the border in new ways or acknowledging the differing lived realities there provide any or enough redress to Haitians for the violence perpetuated by Dominicans and the Dominican state against them. Jean-Charles challenges us with this question: What exactly changes if we insist on exchanging conflict and tension for welcome and collaboration? And, if we are imagining the border to be a reconciling, gathering space, is it a safe space for Haitians or is it one that can only exist for Dominicans?
For this reason, we turned to Edouard Glissant and his notion of the “tremble.” In conversation with Glissant, we understand that while there is much collaboration, the border is also not free from conflict. In other words, we do not presume that “cross-border,” “transnational,” “inter-regional” relations transcend hierarchies, inequalities, and oppressions. Nevertheless, like Glissant, our goal is to see in the “tremble” a productive space that resists resolution and one that nurtures humanity in all of its complexity.
Learn more about this new volume, edited by April J. Mayes and Kiran C. Jayaram:
Contributors: Paul Austerlitz | Nathalie Bragadir | Raj Chetty | Anne Eller | Kaiama L. Glover | Maja Horn | Regine Jean-Charles | Kiran C. Jayaram | Elizabeth Manley | April Mayes | Elizabeth Russ | Fidel J. Tavárez | Elena Valdez